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Lys Anzia – WNN Commentary

Malala Yousafzai and her father

Malala Yousafzai sites next to her father Ziauddin Yousafzai as they attend high level events on global girls education in New York during the ‘Delivering on the Global Education Promise’ at the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2013. Here they participate in the “Learning for all” meeting on Afghanistan at the UN in New York. Image: Sarah Beeching/GPE

(WNN) New York, New York, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS: Pakistan’s girls education hero Ms. Malala Yousafzai continued to inspire audiences as she made the rounds inside the United States this week urging others to bring the importance of her message, not her celebrity, into larger action for the world.

With talking points that echoed the same words used throughout her U.S. speaking tour, Malala’s convictions are without a doubt some of the strongest I have ever witnessed as a human rights journalist.

What begin as an invitation by the United Nations in New York to come and speak on her sixteenth birthday last July has now launched Yousafzai into a remarkable U.S. speaking tour. As she traveled from Europe to the United States she is building steam in a dizzying flurry of activity as she continues to go head-to-head with those who stubbornly believe that girls and women worldwide must be censured from education, especially from schools that include topics like the study of science, math or the humanities.

Along with Malala ‘all-the-way’, her father Ziauddin Yousafzai has been at her side. Like his daughter Ziauddin has also dedicated his life to bringing education to all girls in Pakistan and worldwide. As a former teacher and school headmaster in Pakistan, Ziauddin is also one of the newly appointed advisors for former British Prime Minister and current United Nations Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown.

Malala and her father’s work at the UN includes a target to inspire organizations, government agencies and individuals to join those committed in getting 61 million children to start, or stay put in, primary school education worldwide. Advocates working toward this goal hope to reach this incredible number of children in primary schools worldwide by the start of 2015.

“Less than 900 days away from 2015, we need a break-through in education,” said Irina Bokova Director-General of UNESCO recently on September 26. It’s obvious that education can’t happen by itself.

The United Nations, who just hosted the first year anniversary with the Global Education First Initiative, as part of the UN General Assembly’s 68th anniversary, is an important partner in this goal. But where is the money coming from for this vast project? How many governments are weighing in with commitment by adding to the funding bucket? There are obvious gaps showing needs. Partnerships between government, high level non-government ogranizations and the private sector are key to the success of this worldwide project, added Bokova.

“Education is not simply a moral imperative—it is the smart choice. Every dollar invested generates US$ 10 to US$ 15 in returns. Yet worldwide, some 61 million children are still not in school. Our shared ideals are simple. We want all children to attend primary school and to progress to secondary school and relevant higher education. We want them to acquire the literacy, numeracy and critical-thinking skills that will help them to succeed in life and live as engaged and productive global citizens,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the launch of the UN Global Education First Initiative in September 2012.

When Malala began writing for the public in 2009 at the age of 11 for BBC News in Pakistan she used a  pseudonym. Her name for her writing was Gul Makai, a pen name used for her protection. During months of blogging she went deep to describe how she was afraid of going to school. And how the increased presence of religious extremists became more and more commonplace in the Swat Valley. It was a time when restrictions on schoolgirls became part of everyday life as she outlined how girls in the region were told “not to wear colourful clothes as the Taleban would object to it.” They also began to threaten those who spoke out about education freedom, including Malala.

Today in Pakistan there is a rising intolerance for all forms of extremism. Although this intolerance can be hidden within more rural communities, Malala’s hometown of Mingora, the largest city in Pakistan’s Swat region is an active region that is now supporting more girls in school.

Today compared to last year, 102,374 girls registered as students at primary schools inside the Swat Valley region, including the town of Mingora. Compare that total to 96,540 girls enrolled in school in the region last year, outlined Dilshad Bibi District Education Officer for Swat Valley.

But speaking out strongly against those who want to stop girls from going to schools that opt to follow a more ‘western’ approach to education might come with a price that can include losing one’s life.

“On my way from school to home I heard a man saying ‘I will kill you’. I hastened my pace… to my utter relief he was talking on his mobile and must have been threatening someone else over the phone,” said an 11-year-old Malala.

Only a few weeks before her most recent trip to the U.S., Malala spoke out once again against those who want to stop girls education. She did this as she spoke on stage at the opening ceremony for the largest public library in Europe, a library project now based in Birmingham, England which houses one million books. At the cost of £188 million ($341 plus million USD) this amazing library is located in the same town where Malala was flown for her emergency surgery and follow-up recovery in 2012 after an almost lethal attack against her occurred in her home town of Mingora.

Pakistani school girls

Naseeban like many other rural girls lives only a 15 minute walk away from the school she attends in 2013. “My parents are happy for me to come to school but my father says I can only study until the end of grade five [at the age of 12]. My father says beyond grade five males teach and I am not allowed to go to school with a male teacher,” Naseeban says. Right now Naseeban wants to study to be a teacher because there is not a teacher in her village. Many of Naseeban’s friends who live in her village do not go to school as it is considered ‘too far away’. Image: Anna Kramer/Oxfam

Two weeks after Malala was honored to speak at the opening of Birmingham Central Library, Amnesty International jumped also recognized Malala Yousafzai’s talent and courage. As an award recipient for the prestigious 2013 Ambassador of Conscience Award in Dublin, Ireland Malala was given a chance once again to speak on a message that doesn’t appear to grow old: the quest to bring quality education to the world.

The awards and recognition for Malala did not stop there. Bringing education to all girls, as well as boys, worldwide is not an easy task. It takes grit, strength and determination.

It also takes courage as the dangers for Malala, and others like her who speak out, are not going away.

“We are family. Your humanity is caught up in my humanity,” said UNICEF goodwill ambassador and Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote to Malala recently at the United Nations General Assembly’s 68th session in New York. This year the General Assembly’s theme is “education for all.”

But there are some, too many, who do not believe in education for all, especially for girls.

“Those people [religious extremists] consider themselves powerful just because of having guns in their hands,” outlined Malala recently as she received a September 27, 2013  Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award at Harvard University in Boston on Friday.

““But I think I am powerful and I will be powerful if I empower myself with education and with knowledge,” added Malala while she stood before the crowd in Boston. “And if you are with me, and if we all are together, and if we raise our voice and if we speak up for our rights, then no one can defeat us. And we shall not be afraid of anyone,” she added.

During her recent U.S. tour, only one day before Malala’s award ceremony at Harvard in Boston and the same day as her appearance at the UN, Malala also appeared on stage in New York with former President Bill Clinton to receive a 2013 Global Citizen Award from CGI – the Clinton Global Initiative.

To stand with world leaders and Nobel Laureates was like a dream for a young teenage girl from Pakistan, but it was an almost exhausting schedule for the ‘girl hero’ who has recovered from her injuries only less than one year ago.

“I hope that governments and all responsible people will realize that we cannot end war with a war. We can fight war. We can fight war through dialogue, peace, and education,” outlined Malala as she used her hands to stress the importance of her message to the audience at CGI’s annual award event. “If you want to see peace in Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan; if you want to end the war; to fight against the war; then instead of sending guns send books,” she said hoping to bring her message of education straight to the desks of world leaders.

Books, pencils and pens, not war and bombs, are the unequivocal answer today to insure world peace, Malala echoed.

Malala has also just launched The Malala Fund via Facebook, Twitter and an online website. The Malala Fund is a new global organization that is now working with international partners and individuals to help girls attend and stay in school.

“Fight terrorism through education,” she stressed.

Along with the drum for education Malala also brought the issue in the fight for women’s equality to the floor.

“Women are not even accepted as human beings. They are treated with injustice and inequality,” outlined the girls advocate. “Women are denied. They are neglected. Even in the developing countries where they are not allowed to move forward and be what they want,” she continued.

“Even in America, even in America, people are waiting for a woman president,” added Malala as she looked straight in the eyes of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who smiled from the audience. The auditorium applause that followed was a clear indication of a possibility for a woman candidate to once again run for president in the U.S. in 2016.

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Working to bring greater literacy to Pakistan the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (KNCU) released this video December 2012. It shows the social environment facing many of Pakistan’s women, especially women who come from traditional families without financial resources, who want to become literate. Classes in primary education in the rural areas of Hafizabad and Lahore are shown.

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For more information on this topic:

The Malala Fund – website

Rural girls in Pakistan: Constraints of policy and culture,” CGDev – Center for Global Development, September 2007;

Gender Discrimination in Education: The violation of rights for women and girls,” Global Campaign for Education, February 2012;

WORLD ATLAS of Gender Equality in Education,” UNESCO, March 2012.

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As a human rights journalist with a career that began in public radio broadcasting through an internship at Pacifica radio station WPFW-FM in Washington, D.C., WNN founder Lys Anzia has a strong dedication in bringing the highest quality journalism available to the public. In addition to Anzia’s featured stories on WNN, her written and editorial work can also be seen on WUNRN – Women’s UN Report Network, Vital Voices, Women’s Media Center, World Bank and UNESCO publications, Thomson Reuters Foundation, Reliefweb, The Guardian News Development Network and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, among others.

Currently WNN’s in-depth stories on women from 6 separate global regions can be found online in over 5 million separate Google search pages monthly.

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